identities in specific historical settings is constantly prone to caste-oriented cultural patterns, even if this takes place under the veneer of liberation. Many of the political movements in south India that have mobilized under the banner of emancipation and justice for the marginalized have calculatingly and candidly taken on sectarian ('sub-caste-like') identities. Thus, within Tamilnadu the notion of a dalit identity is without doubt subservient to the more organized and more vocalized Pallar or Paraiyar or Arundhathiyar identities, each of which clearly represents a caste-based valuation of one's collective distinctiveness. In this context, the notion of subaltern could steer collective solidarity formation among the various dominated and exploited communities away from the community world-view that interprets all configurations of body politics along caste lines.
The rationale of this caste-based ideational framework for interpreting identity must have some links to local Indian anthropology. The following ethno-sociological worldview on human identity is compelling and significant in this regard. The native Hindu view of caste, as developed by McKim Marriott and Ronald Inden in their 'individual-particle' theory, is based on the belief that all human beings are born with a coded-substance that relates to their caste, sex, and personality.13 These substances are constituted by particles containing the same coding, which can be detached from the body and become annexed to another body. Herein lies the difference from a western notion of 'individual', which implies a kind of enduring indivisibility of the human person. Due to the potential for dividuation in the Hindu view, physical interaction must be socially controlled to enable individuals possessing the same substance coding to exchange compatible particles and restrict individuals having disparate substances from coming together. It is crucial that these coded-substances be kept from mixing. This logic feeds the dynamic of Hindu caste society, which seeks to maintain auspiciousness, order and purity as against its opposite state of inauspiciousness, disorder and pollution, thus explaining the underlying reason that prevents various communities in India, including dalit communities, from interacting with each other in freedom and solidarity. In Dipankar Gupta's words:
According to the native Hindu theory, individuals belonging to a particular caste share identical particles. These particles are different from the particles that
For further reading see Marriot McKim and Ronald B. Inden, 'Towards an Ethnosociology of
South Asian Caste System', in Kenneth A. David (ed.), The New Wind: Changing Identities in
South Asia (Chicago: Aldine Publishers, 1977), pp. 227-38; and Pauline Kolenda, Caste and
Contemporary India: Beyond Organic Solidarity (Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1985).
constitute other individuals in other castes. This is why it is necessary to maintain distance between castes, lest these particles commingle ... unlike racial stratification where visible differences govern social interaction, the caste system has to rest eventually on the belief in natural differences.14
Subaltern as an anti-caste community denounces and renounces such an essentialist conception of human identities. It seeks to posit an alternate ideational framework that undercuts biological justification for forging collective identities in ethnic terms and creates space for inter-sectarian and inter-parochial transfigurations of corporate human identities. This conception of subaltern ceases to think of human beings in terms of magnets that either attract or repel substances, which feeds into the idea that identities are essentially an assembly of similar particles. Rather, it posits human beings as socially constructible according to common struggles and aspirations, conceiving of identity formation across traditionally dividing categories. Thus, dalits, Adivasis and asat-Shudras can find themselves in a movement toward configuring a collective identity that subverts the logic and the functioning of the caste-based worldview from extending itself among those who are beaten down by its working.
subalterns as the first fruits of god's relational polity of just wholeness
Let us not delude ourselves that there exists such a community in contemporary India. There may be instances of the temporary and strategic banding together of such collectives; but this has been transitory and far from integrated. In this final section I shall first comment on the theological model of community that informs this reflection of the subaltern (even in dialogue with sociological or political theory my commitment as a Christian theologian permeates much of my arguments); secondly, I shall sum up this section by proposing a definition of theology that appears to have emerged from this exercise.
I cannot escape the accusation that 'subaltern', as I have explicated it in these pages, is a projected community, which is tinged with eschatological interpolations even if contrived to manifest concrete actualizations. When I look back at these reflections I am acutely aware how much my interpretation of this term 'subaltern' has been funded by the theological concept of the reigning of God as mediated through the Jesus as the Christ dynamic. Jesus as the Christ is presumed to be distinctly and
4 Dipankar Gupta (ed.), Social Stratification (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 25.
inextricably related to the reign of God; that is, God's relational polity of just wholeness. I believe that Jesus as the Christ transforms this eschatological frame of reference into a historical momentum; hence, in the energy that Jesus expends in being the Christ the rule of God is let loose in the world. Jesus as the Christ concretely and decisively instrumentalizes God's polity of just wholeness and invites all human beings to realize the proximity and appropriateness of this rule of God, expressed in Jesus' proclamation at the commencement of his ministry: 'The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news' (NRSV Mark 1:15). Also, in the Jesus as the Christ momentum, the ethnic and the geographical contours of the promise and fulfilment of the reign of God are redefined to include all peoples everywhere; thus, it moves far beyond the nation of Israel to include all people living in the whole inhabited world, with a special relationship carved out for the poor and the excluded. Let me attempt to extrapolate the significant nuances with which I have critically appropriated and constructively employed this conception to mean God's relational polity of just wholeness with reference to subalterns.
First, Jesus' invitation to the reigning of God is the subalterns' hope for a relational polity of just wholeness. The momentum that is instrumentalized by the Jesus as the Christ dynamic opens up new and liberative ways for subalterns to move away from the politics of domination towards the politics of freedom and liberty. A discerning reader of the synoptic Gospels will discover that Jesus' main objective was neither to communicate knowledge about God or knowledge of himself; rather he came to announce, inaugurate and invite his hearers to enter into the dynamics of the reigning of God, which I have construed to signify a relational polity of just wholeness. On the one hand, the reigning of God is a gift of God to all creation; it is always waiting to break into history. In the Jesus as the Christ movement the polity appears as an actual and actualizing force attracting all human beings to repent and enter into the relationship that God intends for God's people. It is important to stress the notion that this polity of just wholeness is a gift and creation of God, which is built into the structures of a God-intended and God-activating order. The reigning of God thus is the processes of configuring just wholeness, which presupposes God's promise and purposive activity for God's creation. On the other hand, the subalterns become God's hope for a relational polity of just wholeness, as is testified to by the masses that surrounded Jesus and the persons that decided to follow in his way. The Jesus movement was not as attractive to those dominant communities that needed to retain their own privileges. On the contrary, it was the poor and the excluded that gravitated towards its pronouncement and engagement. Hence, the objective of God and the hope of the subaltern find commonality in the reign of God.
Secondly, Jesus renders the reigning of God as a kinship based on water rather than on blood. The subaltern, accordingly, is conceived of in terms of a relationship of engagement rather than a commonality of substance. This has direct relevance to formations of identity; that is, it rejects the Hindu caste worldview, which proposes that human beings are to think of identity in essentialist and substantial ways, as if a person is a conglomeration of specific particles that have a coding predetermining one's caste, gender and persona. Rather subaltern identity is constructed as a relationship that emerges through the active participation in the dynamic of striving toward a life of freedom and dignity. Without doubt this representation as I elucidate it is categorically Christian, in the sense that the exchange of a blood-based identity with a water-interpreted one can be explained by pointing to the baptism of Jesus, symbolizing the point at which he renounces his blood-based identity and embraces his water-based identity.
To clarify, let me start by saying that Jesus' baptism was deliberately chosen. In the midst of a host of voices in Israel Jesus chose the baptism of John. There were the Essenes, the Zealots, the Pharisees and the Sad-ducees, but Jesus came to be baptized by John; John, the fierce and irritating prophet, who chose to live outside the borders of society. In John's own mind he was offering a baptism of repentance; this was the unique characteristic of John's baptism, and yet Jesus sought out John in order to be baptized. In a sense, one can assert that Jesus repented; thus his baptism symbolized turning around from an ethnic identity that involved some privileges and some restrictions to a new identity that was defined by solidarity with the community that would be bound together with God in bringing about the relational polity of just wholeness. Jesus turns around in the same way that he turns away from blood-based identity and towards water-based identity. On the one hand, at baptism Jesus was turning away from the privilege of his race and his status because of being a pure Jew and a strong male in what we would call a racist and patriarchal system. Jesus, I think, repented of all that he had gained for many years from this privilege, which was rooted in a society that interpreted his identity in essentialist and substantive ways. He repented of the entrenchment of his life in the world; he turned away from all of its entrapment so as to be the agent of the rule of God. Jesus'
baptism then was a genuine act of repentance; it was a sign that he was decisively turning around. From this point on it becomes clear to the world that Jesus' blood-based identity has terminated; hence, from then on his mother and brothers and sisters are those who do the will of God, and there is no more bonding based on birth, race and gender. His descent into the waters of the Jordan is a form of dying to the old self and his rising from the water is the configuration of a new self, based in another kind of identity. Thus, on the other hand, Jesus' baptism as an act of repentance also was a turning toward the sole privilege of being the mediator of the community based on water and a willingness to live fully within God's relational polity of just wholeness. Blood was no longer thicker than water; in fact water was now thicker than blood. This identity is constructible and can be freely chosen, and yet this water baptism, as instantiated by Jesus as the Christ, lifts up the prophetic challenge for those incorporated into the new identity based on water. To sum up this discussion let me restate that at baptism Jesus became wholly disobliged to the identity that was derived from blood and became wholly obliged to his chosen identity, which was symbolized by water. In so doing he offers a model for the formation of subaltern identity in its journey toward freedom and dignity.
Thirdly, Jesus' idea of the reigning of God was far removed from the idea that it merely involved the ruling of God in the heart of the individual believer. The domain of the reign of God is not only within the Christian person. Instead Jesus teaches that the kingdom of God is a social entity; a commonwealth of God's humanity organized in all its aspects according to the will of God. The idea that the kingdom of God is solely linked up with the internal being of the individual is not consonant with Jewish thought in general, rather it is much more typical of Greek philosophical thought. Jesus was a Jew and his thought-world was predominantly corporate and social. Thus, in accordance with his Jewish tradition, Jesus locates the dynamics of the reign of God within the spiritual, social, political and economic realities of the excluded people; consequently, he took the corporate identity formation of the subaltern seriously. The words of Jesus found in Luke 17:21 are important: 'For, in fact, the kingdom of God is [not merely within you or merely without you, but] among you'; that is, the reign of God as propounded by this passage addresses the social and earthly dimensions of life in all its fullness. Therefore, it is no wonder that the subaltern had much to gain from the drawing near of this reign of God, which had social and earthly implications for human society. Thus, calculatingly, Luke's version of the beatitudes has Jesus saying: 'Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God' (Luke 6:20). It is the reigning of God as a new community of relationships intended by God, energized by Jesus as the Christ and celebrated by the poor and excluded, that seeks to break in among us as a concrete entity.
Consequently, the notion of Christian theology that emerges can be articulated in this way: Christian theology is a critical and constructive reflection on the symbols of God, world and human being and their interrelationships as interpreted through the Jesus as the Christ momentum that is contextually mediated and liberationally steered by the power of the Holy Spirit.
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